Will Threatening Subordinates to Obedience Really Work?



Threatening your subordinates to obedience can work powerfully–if you lived in the medieval times. Or better, in ancient times. It will work anywhere slavery still works. It was responsible for erecting the great pyramids of Egypt, remember? And the Great Walls of China.

Totalitarian rule can accomplish great things. So, if the question is effectiveness–will it work?–the answer is clearly yes. It can work with house or farm helps, employees, sales force, networking downlines, pupils, students, subordinates, disciples, and even with your kids. Yes, even with a spouse.

But the other question is–and the more important, actually–will it be meaningful to all? Will everyone be happy? Will the experience be enriching? Or will it all be mere degrading and slavery?

I’ve seen how people in sales were threatened with expulsion or termination if they failed to make a sale or hit the monthly quota. It was effective–some were forced to hit the quota and the rest were fired–but it was a total failure for the company. A company that behaves desperately like that is a failed employer–like a ruthless dictator that aims to get what it wants by hook or by crook–regardless of the consequences.

Instead of threats, there should be powerful motivations. The ability to patiently motivate people, especially the unproductive, is the mark of a truly great leader or company.

Or, have you seen a teacher or professor whose only motivation for students is to pass exams or else get kicked out of school? Of course, getting expelled for failing in all subjects is part of schooling, but some teachers have nothing more to offer students except the threat of expulsion.

Some schools and universities choose only the best and brightest (threatening them with rejection if they fail the entrance test) to enter their studentry and then claim they produce only the best. Nope, they didn’t “produce” them–the students were already the best before they enrolled in the school.

Or, have you seen a church whose only motivation for salvation is to avoid the fires of hell? So church people do the ministry because they fear the wrath of God, nothing more. Salvation by grace gradually turns into salvation by works without being noticed. I want to see a church blossom with holiness not by threats of hell but by the beauty of a holy God.

Or, have you seen parents who often threaten their kids with punishment to keep them from disobeying? You see their kids highly disciplined with fear and trembling, moving at the exact cadence imposed by their parents, but utterly strangers to freedom and the free use of their decisions and imagination–becoming virtual robots.

Or, have you had friends who kept relationships with people anchored solely on threats of discontinuing favors and cutting friendships to control them?

All the above are possible and can even go a long way, assuming the appearance of success–though empty success, that is.

I don’t remember Jesus threatening people to keep them obedient. He always stressed that “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” He gave them warnings about consequences of irresponsible actions, but I don’t remember him forcing anyone by threat. Even Judas he merely allowed to decide his own fate. The same with Peter–and the disciples who deserted him after he taught a controversial teaching on eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

And yet, no doubt, Jesus Christ is the greatest leader of all time. He epitomizes real leadership. He is the greatest motivator and encourager of all time.

One time, I was attending a Christian conference for pastors and the worship leader suddenly raved mad at the congregation for worshiping lousily. Then, she forced them to worship better, shouting like crazy and getting angrier each time as she made us repeat the chorus. She probably felt it was righteousness anger to do so, but all I saw was a worship circus. A showmanship. I smiled, thinking that I could never imagine Jesus doing the same.

A lousy congregational singing can only be the result of a lousy worship leading. An angry leader boisterous with threats doesn’t make for great or vibrant leadership. It’s just plain lousy and pitiful, period.

Jesus was disappointed that his disciples had time to doze off while he was at the verge of being arrested and crucified. He asked them, “Can’t you stay awake for an hour to pray with me?” It’s easy to imagine the disappointed tone in his voice, but he never shouted at them or forced them to wake up and pray. He didn’t threaten them to obedience.

That’s the mark of a real leader–appealing to the intellect and conscience rather than by mean threats. Motivation should be done by convincing and stimulating conscience and imagination. And if these fail, a real leader will respect the free will of the other, of course with ample warnings about irresponsible decisions.


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